A Christmas Carol, or A Christmas Fiasco, Act I

Soon I’ll return to my food autobiography, but now I have to tell you about the island production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. 

The creator, producer, directer and director is a lady who lives here on the island and who, I am told, has a lot of Hollywood experience.  I’m afraid she hasn’t much stage experience.  She has written a script which takes some pretty serious liberties with Dickens.  For instance, Scrooge says, after seeing the ghost of Jacob Marley, “I’m seeing things because I have a food allergy.”

The concept is big, the staging is complex, the visuals are elegant, the whole is frighteningly over ambitious.  This island has about 1000 inhabitants.  An awful lot of them are in the play.  We hope we have some left for an audience.

The writer/producer designed all the sets.  The backdrops are painted on Tyveck which is mounted on plastic pipe frames with wheel bases. There are 12 of these, all lovingly painted by island artists.  There are some other large set pieces: a fireplace that has lights and tinsel to simulate fire with a fan and a dimmer switch for different light levels, 2 coffins a big one for Marley and a small one for Tiny Tim, a stove with fire-like lights, a cart to wheel the coffins on, and a street lamp. 

These pieces were mostly constructed from pink foam insulation by one of the island’s master builders and painted by me, the girl who can’t say no.  There are lots of other props, large and small lent to the production by the cast and crew.  The costumes are said to be elaborate.  There are puppets, recorded sound effects masks and many lighting effects. There are dancers, mostly school children, a harpist, a violinist and a bag-pipe player.

There are about 20 scene and set changes in this production, and although the play is to have its single performance on Sunday — three days from now — we have never yet got through the whole play in rehearsal.  Some of the puppets are not finished, some of the costumes are not finished, only one of the 20 or so actors knows his or her lines and the dancers haven’t learned their routines. 

Rehearsals take place in a large unheated barn.  The outside temperature hovers between 45 and 50 degrees.  Yesterday we were supposed to have a complete run- through, but a lot of people didn’t come and many of those who did come didn’t have their scenes rehearsed because of the delays caused by confusion over bits of complicated business. 

The producer is a small, energetic woman who seems to be constantly in motion except when she gets caught in a complicated speech, at which point she freezes in position until her thought is finished.  She seems to have little notion of the time passing, and spends precious rehearsal minutes messing with things like getting all of the hair of a wig arranged, or fretting about the flapping of puppet angel wings. Slowly the people who have showed up for the rehearsal creep out of the barn and go home.

Tonight the six stage hands, including me, the girl who can’t say no, are gathering at my warm house with a model of the sets to try for a coherent plan of all the complicated moves in the 20 or so scene changes.

Tomorrow the sets and props will be moved from the barn to the island school where the play will be performed.  A change of weather is predicted, and high winds are in the forecast.  We are all worried about how the flimsy Tyveck backdrops will survive the transfer.

On Monday I’ll let you know how it all comes out, fun, farce or fiasco, or perhaps all three.

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1 Response to A Christmas Carol, or A Christmas Fiasco, Act I

  1. The most delightful, put together, piece I’ve read. We do plays in a simple way here in Los Alamos, New Mexico. This crazy extraordinarily elaborate production description is delightful & informative.

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